In: Barbie and Ken in the USSR

Lara Vychuzhanina | The life of Barbie and Ken in the Soviet Union
November 30, 2021

Lara Vychuzhanina | The life of Barbie and Ken in the Soviet Union, 2017

First as tragedy, then as farce, we were warned a long time ago by Marx, is how history will play out. That’s a bit damning, but as we make our way further into the 21st century, it’s to be forgiven if many of us also see a more black than bleak humour in all this, a dark comedy that still makes us laugh, inappropriately. 

Lara Vychuzhanina (whose Instagram name is aptly @lara_art_dolls) is a Russian photographer from Yekaterinburg – formerly known as Sverdlovsk, during the Soviet era, which I mention as it intersects with some of the ideas present in her work here, where she’s created a tableaux of Barbie and her partner Ken living in the USSR in the 1980s.

There’s always an element of nostalgia in depictions of history, allusions to a ‘simpler time’, and it’s interesting to see one about the USSR, as in the West we’re usually inundated with this false trope about the 1950s, or 1960s: Lara Vychuzhanina is too young to remember the 1980s in the former Soviet Union, but this doesn’t stop others from offering caustic and contested interpretations of those eras, either. Employing Barbie and Ken for this is a nice intersection of mythologies of East and West, capitalism and communism, plasticity and reality – and it is also, in the inherent contradictions of its assemblage, very funny. 

After all, “comedy is in act superior to tragedy and humourous reasoning superior to grandiloquent reasoning” (which, fittingly, is attributed to Friedrich Engels by Karl Marx, back in 1862)…..

More images by this artist can be enjoyed at her Instagram. ~ Bart Gazzola

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